By Amber Friedrichsen
In addition to completing assignments and taking exams, Luke Dietrich’s college career has included laying bricks and drawing landscaping plans. The eldest in horticulture is the owner of Pilot Landscaping Solutions LLC, and he grew his business while pursuing his education.
Pilot Landscaping Solutions offers renovations and new construction of curbs, retaining walls, patios and drainage systems. Dietrich also specializes in plantations and performs light earthworks on construction sites. All of his work is residential and his clientele encompasses the Clive, Norwalk and Waukee, Iowa areas.
Dietrich discovered his entrepreneurial spirit in college when he mowed the lawn of his neighbors in West Des Moines. Before long, he had invested in his own equipment and was mowing the grass at almost every address in the area. It was essentially the namesake of his current company.
“At the time, I didn’t have a truck, but my parents had a Honda Pilot that I towed my lawnmower with,” Dietrich said. “The word ‘pilot’ has certain qualities of professionalism, and my business literally started behind my parents’ Honda Pilot, which is why I called myself Pilot Landscaping Solutions.”
Later, while in high school, Dietrich shifted his focus from lawn care to landscaping when he decided to major in horticulture at Iowa State University. He taught himself how to complete various projects by watching videos and using online resources. He also took courses to learn installation techniques and studied best business practices. Nonetheless, Dietrich eventually learned the ropes through trial and error.
“When you come to a job site and something is wrong, you might have to try a different way,” Dietrich said. “Sometimes a project fails and you have to go back and start over. It’s OK to mess up, otherwise you won’t know what not to do.
After arriving on campus, Dietrich’s courses also became applicable to his operation. His horticulture curriculum and business courses, such as ECON 234: Small Business Management, have helped Pilot Landscaping Solutions grow.
He also figured out how to run his business in concert with the Iowa State academic calendar. For example, he meets with clients during the semester to create landscaping plans, then executes project installations during the summer. In addition to him, he has three seasonal employees.
Another way for Dietrich to balance student life and maintaining a business is to be part of Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This initiative within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences helps entrepreneurs turn their startup ideas into reality and grow their current businesses to profitable levels. Through Start Something CALS, Dietrich mainly deals with the Student Incubator Program where he meets his peers to ask questions, voice concerns and give advice about his business.
“In the group, you can voice the exact problem you’re trying to solve and get other people’s opinions on it,” Dietrich said. “They can tell you to look at it from a different angle or try a different approach, and having that idea has been great.”
This is what Kevin Kimle, director of Start Something CALS, aspires for the structure of the student incubation program. He leads meetings to discuss different aspects of entrepreneurship, such as making investments, building a team or managing money. Overall, the program is designed to help students grow their startup ideas into established businesses.
“Having a first idea is great, but it’s only the first step in a 10,000-step journey,” Kimle said. “Over time, students can improve on this idea to the point where their businesses solve serious problems and make the world a better place.”
Whether Dietrich pursues landscaping full-time after graduating this fall or focuses on other opportunities in the industry, the experiences and knowledge he gained at Iowa State have given him a solid foundation for success in their field.